NCHC Playoff Preview: UND vs. Colorado College

Mike Haviland’s second year behind the Colorado College bench produced better results than year one. Last season, the Tigers were historically bad, winning just twice (2-19-3-1) in 24 league games. This year, CC improved to 4-19-1-1 in league play but still finished in last place, four points behind Western Michigan.

The feeling among the Tiger faithful is that new blood behind the bench will eventually translate into new life on the ice, and CC fans have seen flashes of that this season. Haviland is new to Division I hockey, but he was named the AHL coach of the year in 2006-07 (Norfolk Admirals) and served as an assistant coach with the Chicago Blackhawks for four seasons (2008-12), winning a Stanley Cup in 2010. He was most recently head coach for the AHL’s Hershey Bears.

UND and Colorado College met six times last season (twice in Colorado Springs), with North Dakota winning all six games and outscoring the Tigers 25-10. Without those six victories, UND’s record last year would have looked far less impressive at 23-10-3 (.681). This season, Brad Berry’s first trip to Colorado Springs as head coach resulted in a pair of victories (5-2, 2-0), and North Dakota took five of six league points during a January series in Grand Forks (5-5 overtime tie/shootout win, 5-1).

The two teams have made a habit of meeting in the first round of the NCHC tournament, with North Dakota dispatching Colorado College each of the past two years. As I wrote about before the start of last season’s league playoffs, earning a sweep in postseason play is no easy task. As I predicted in that article, Saturday’s game went down to the wire, with UND needing a late goal by Connor Gaarder to secure a 3-2 victory. North Dakota easily handled the Tigers 5-1 in Friday’s opener.

The biggest question mark for Mike Haviland’s team is whether netminder Jacob Nehama will be cleared to play. Nehama, a freshman, has earned all six of the Tigers wins this season. If he is not able to go, the Tigers will rely on junior Derek Shatzer, who was blitzed for nine goals (four shorthanded) last Saturday against St. Cloud State.

Last Friday night, UND goaltender Cam Johnson helped the Fighting Hawks win the Penrose Cup with another outstanding performance (stopping 31 of 32 shots). In a reversal of fortune, Johnson was lifted from Saturday’s rematch after allowing three goals on the first four shots he faced. The sophomore from Flint, Michigan is currently second in the nation in both goals-against average (1.62) and save percentage (.937) with 18 wins (9th in the country) and five shutouts (6th).

A big reason for UND’s success this season has been North Dakota’s ability to hold a lead. During the 2015-16 campaign, Brad Berry’s squad is unbeaten (21-0-2) when leading after the first forty minutes of play. In fact, over the past eight years, North Dakota is converting almost 90 percent of second intermission leads into victories and has just seven losses in the last 178 such situations (159-7-12).

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference as a whole has a solid record against other leagues once again this season, particularly against the Big Ten. North Dakota’s split against Wisconsin is currently the only league loss against the six teams in the conference that destroyed college hockey as we knew it.

NCHC overall record vs. other conferences: 48-26-10 (.631, best in the country)

NCHC record vs. Atlantic Hockey: 4-2-0 (.667)
NCHC record vs. Big Ten: 14-1-1 (.906)
NCHC record vs. ECAC: 2-7-0 (.286)
NCHC record vs. Hockey East: 5-12-7 (.354)
NCHC record vs. WCHA: 19-4-2 (.800)

The six teams in the Big Ten (Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin) are a combined 39-39-11 (.500) in non-league play, the third-worst winning percentage in college hockey. Not including a 12-3-1 mark against Atlantic Hockey and a 2-0-0 record against D-I independents, the Big Ten sports a dismal 25-36-10 (.423) record against the other four major hockey conferences.

North Dakota’s Brock Boeser collected three goals and three assists last weekend in a home sweep of Western Michigan. Boeser, a first-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks, is one of the best rookies in the country. Here are the top five freshman point-getters in the nation:

1. Kyle Connor (Michigan): 26-31-57 in 32 games (1.78 points/game)
2. Brock Boeser (North Dakota): 25-18-43 in 34 games (1.26 points/game)
3. Dylan Gambrell (Denver): 15-27-42 in 34 games (1.24 points/game)
4. Max Letunov (Connecticut): 16-24-40 in 36 games (1.11 points/game)
5. Colin White (Boston College): 17-22-39 in 30 games (1.30 points/game)

Since 1983-84, the only UND freshman to score more goals than Boeser’s 25 was Zach Parise, who had 26 in 2002-03. In their first years at North Dakota, T.J. Oshie scored 24 and Jonathan Toews scored 22. The only other freshmen in Fighting Sioux men’s hockey history to score 25 or more goals in a season are Troy Murray (33 in 1980-81), Kevin Maxwell (31, 1978-79), Perry Berezan (31, 1983-84), and Cary Eades (27, 1978-79). In fact, of the first twelve rookies to reach the twenty-goal plateau, ten went on to play in the NHL (Eades and Ian Kallay were the exception).

Amazingly, UND is 8th of 60 teams nationally in scoring offense and 3rd in scoring defense, notching 127 goals and allowing only 67 in 36 games this season. Nationally, only St. Cloud State (156 goals for/77 goals against in 36 games), Boston College (134 goals for/64 goals against in 34 games), and Quinnipiac (129 goals for/65 goals against in 34 games) boast a better scoring margin than North Dakota.

North Dakota is now a stone-cold lock to make its 14th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, the longest active streak in men’s Division 1 ice hockey. One reason for that outlook is that UND went 9-1-2 in non-conference games this season, with a home split against Wisconsin accounting for the only loss in twelve games. The Fighting Hawks are currently 1st in the Pairwise rankings, one of five NCHC teams (along with St. Cloud State, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, and Omaha) who would make the NCAAs if the season ended today. To be fair, Duluth (13th), Omaha (15th), and Miami (t-22nd) should all be considered squarely on the playoff bubble, with Western Michigan and Colorado College outside the top 30.

In terms of scoring depth, Colorado College has just three players averaging a point per weekend, while North Dakota has eight. The Tigers have allowed 64 more goals than they have scored (69-133), while the Fighting Hawks are currently a plus-60 in scoring differential (127-67).

If Mike Haviland’s squad has any hope of stealing a game against North Dakota, they will have to rely on forwards Hunter Fejes, Sam Rothstein, and Luc Gerdes to carry the load. The three upperclassmen (Fejes is a senior; the other two are juniors) have combined for 26 goals and 29 assists this season, nearly forty percent of the team’s offensive output.

Colorado College Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Haviland (2nd season at CC, 12-53-4, .203)

Pairwise Ranking: t-53rd of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 6-27-1 overall, 4-19-1-0 NCHC (8th)
Last Season: 6-26-3 overall, 2-19-3-1 NCHC (8th)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.03 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.91 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 15.6% (21 of 135)
Penalty Kill: 79.7% (106 of 133)

Key players: Senior F Hunter Fejes (13-9-22), Junior F Luc Gerdes (7-11-18), Junior F Sam Rothstein (6-9-15), Senior F Cody Bradley (7-8-15), Sophomore D Teemu Kivihalme (3-12-15), Freshman D Andrew Farny (3-9-12), Freshman G Jacob Nehama (6-17-0, 3.62 GAA, .902 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 28-5-3, .819)

Pairwise Ranking: 1st of 60 teams
National Rankings: #2/#2
This Season: 28-5-3 overall, 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.53 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.86 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.7% (25 of 141)
Penalty Kill: 86.8% (118 of 136)

Key Players: Freshman F Brock Boeser (25-18-43), Senior F Drake Caggiula (18-21-39), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (5-29-34), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (11-9-20), Junior D Troy Stecher (7-18-25), Sophomore F Tucker Poolman (4-17-21), Junior D Paul LaDue (4-10-14), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (18-3-1, 1.63 GAA, .937 SV%, 5 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 23, 2016 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota peppered Tyler Marble with 32 shots on goal, scoring five times en route to a 5-1 home victory. The two teams went to a shootout in Friday’s opener, as UND let a 4-1 first period lead slip away but scored an extra-attacker goal with 32 seconds remaining to send the game to overtime knotted at five goals apiece.

Most Important Meeting: March 27, 1997. UND defeated Colorado College, 6-2, in the Frozen Four Semifinals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Two nights later, North Dakota downed Boston University, 6-4, to claim its sixth NCAA Championship. North Dakota and Colorado College also met in the 2001 East Regional (Worcester, Mass.), with UND prevailing, 4-1.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 152-80-11 (.648), including a blistering 98-21-7 (.806) mark in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1948.

Last Ten: North Dakota has nine wins and a tie in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring CC 42-18 over that span. The last Tigers victory over UND was a 3-2 overtime win in the 2014 NCHC quarterfinals. 19 of the last 23 games have been decided by two goals or less.

Game News and Notes

In first periods this season, North Dakota has outscored opponents 37-21 while Colorado College has been outscored 35-13. UND’s Drake Caggiula has 16 game-winning goals in his career, two short of Mark Taylor’s school record (18 from 1976-80). North Dakota’s Penrose Cup championship marks the 17th time that a UND hockey team has claimed a regular season conference title. No Division 1 men’s hockey program has won more conference championships than UND. These two coaching staffs coached against each other at the AHL and NHL levels prior to the NCHC.

Media Coverage

All games this weekend will be televised on Midco Sports Network (Sunday’s game, if necessary, will be played at 7:07 p.m. Central Time). A high definition webcast of the games is also available to NCHC.tv subscribers. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

The Prediction

As I mentioned earlier, it is very difficult to sweep a team out of the conference playoffs, particularly when that team’s season is on the line. Historically, Saturday games have been tighter for that very reason, and that’s what I’m going with here. UND 5-1, 3-2.